Fighting The Real
War On Terrorism

By Terrell E. Arnold

After the attacks of 9-11 the United States launched a War to rid our country and the world of Terrorism. That War got off to a brisk start, ousting the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and attacking the hideouts of Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden. The War bogged down in Afghanistan, however, because there are many places to hide, and Al Qaida has allies in several potential safe-haven countries. But Afghanistan is only the beginning, because terrorist groups exist in 75 or more countries. Ultimately, that War cannot succeed, because terrorism grows out of deeply embedded, complex global issues, and the War on Terrorism does not address any of them. If we hope to win, we must get at the causes.

Where Real Effort Should Be

USAID statements present the problem clearly. As AID Administrator Andrew Natsios observed in May 2001, USAID has missions in 75 countries, and in 50 of those countries major conflicts occurred during the past five years. Most of these countries have terrorist groups that existed before we ever heard of Al Qaida. These countries are among the least developed economically and the least modern politically.

The enemies in the real war on terrorism are poverty, ignorance, differences of culture or religion, social, political and economic injustice, destruction of the environment, and exclusion of out-groups from the mainstreams of many societies. Official US, UN and other government statements cite the critical roles of these global issues in world terrorism. But the attack by all governments and the UN is weak and misdirected.

Where Do We Go Wrong?

The global effort falls way short of need. US economic and humanitarian assistance is larger than the programs of all other aid-giving countries combined, but it will be only about $8.5 billion in 2003. If it were evenly spread among aid recipients, it would amount to less than $4 per person. 

The money does not go where it is most needed. Upward of half of US AID funds go to Israel and Egypt; the lionâs share goes to Israel. In effect, Congress decided to pay for the Palestine peace process with the existing aid budget, forcing sharp cuts in assistance to all other countries. Congress cut assistance more when the Cold War ended. Thus, aid to the 70 or so needy countries amounts to less than $2 per person per year. Annual aid to Israel, in grants and loans that are routinely forgiven, amounts to $600-800 or more per person.

Little to none of the money is spent on economic growth. The largest human needs for assistance exist in Asia, Africa and Latin America where the money is spent on programs to grow more food, improve health, cope with the aids/hiv pandemic, and to democratize countries and reduce conflicts.

What Became Of Dedication To Growth?

In the 1950s and 60s, development economists argued that rapid economic growth was the key to escape from underdevelopment, because growth advanced the critical indicators: income, employment, education, health, as well as political and economic modernization. However, beginning in the 1970s, Congress put the brakes on funding for growth, while in the work of a new school of development economists, growth strategies fell completely out of favor.

The World Bank now suggests that early development economists had it right by putting first priority on economic growth. The key ingredient in underdevelopment is scarcity. Growth in income and the alleviation of scarcity produce improvements in the quality of life across a broad set of indicators. In sum, we may have wasted several decades by placing growth at the bottom of our priorities.

The Terrorism Generators

Even with a quick turnaround, scarcity can drive the terrorism generators for years to come. The numbers of people left out, angered, frustrated and rendered militant by problems of overcrowding and poverty are likely to grow at frightening speed, because most of the 2 billion people to be born between now and 2025 will be born in the poorer countries.

This is the wind in Al Qaidaâs sails. If advanced countries do nothing to reduce the economic and social distances between ãNorthä (wealthy) and ãSouthä (impoverished) countries, Osama bin Laden and the leaders of other terrorist groups will exploit the growing gap to generate new outbreaks of terrorism.

What Needs To Be Done

Congress must first insist that assistance goes to people who need it most, and Congress must sharply increase the aid budget. US diplomatic efforts must focus on sharp increases in assistance from other governments. The wealthy of the planet must put in the resources needed to do serious developmental work, and they must keep working the problem until the results are assured.

How To Get To The Future

Assuming that we do not destroy ourselves on route, we can get to the future in two ways. One is to continue present trends that assure we will face endless conflict and constant threats of terrorism. The other is to lift the bottom of the human condition by dedication and sacrifice to improve the quality of life for everybody. We must start down this road, and we must make our destination clear to everyone. If we make an honest and dedicated effort to help the weak, they will help us contain terrorism. If we do nothing about the causes of terrorism, we must learn to live in fear.

Above all we must act now. The matter is urgent.

The writer is a retired senior foreign service officer of the United States Department of State


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